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Maine Leading the States in the Fight for Digital Inclusion

Connected Insights is heading to Maine next week, to start training members of the Maine Digital Inclusion Initiative on our exciting new data collection platform, DITTO.

The Maine Digital Inclusion Initiative is the first state-wide digital inclusion program in the nation, working at increasing digital literacy across 16 counties. The program is the creation of the National Digital Equity Center, led by director and founder Susan Corbett. Corbett has years of experience negotiating connectivity and broadband issues in her state. Under her leadership as CEO, Axiom Technologies, a for-profit Maine-based telecom provider, connected over 2500 miles of rural Maine. Now with the MDII program, Corbett is focusing the NDEC’s efforts on two major areas of digital inclusion: Workplace Development and “Age in Place.” With extensive funding from Americorps and several foundations, this exciting new program reinvents the scope of digital literacy efforts, and set an example for future models nationally.

Workplace Development is an area most of us are familiar with. Even if we’re not, it’s not hard to extrapolate all the ways digital literacy is essential for employment and career-building. However, the “Age in Place” part of MDII’s plan addresses a newer, emerging issue that many states are being forced to address immediately.

With the Baby Boomers now elderly, retiring, and finding themselves in need of regular care, many who live in rural areas or in states with a lack of care facilities find themselves moving out of state to find support. Even just a lack of infrastructure, such as public transit, can be enough of a reason to move. The elderly move to other retirement facilities, or they move in with family in other areas, and this not only reduce tax bases for many states and cities, but leads to other corollary problems, such as housing being abandoned or left unattended.

“Age in Place” hopes to address this aging population’s needs by promoting digital literacy and connectivity. After all, people over 45 are one of the most unconnected demographics, having not grown up with digital tech and in many cases just learning enough of it to get by. But for elderly adults, being connected can help them access a myriad of helpful services. From public transport, to grocery delivery and remote health monitoring, “Age in Place” aims to help elderly people stay in their homes longer, with better quality of life.

Connected Insight’s founder Samantha Schartman-Cycyk will be traveling to the NDEC next week to help train MDII workers in using DITTO - Digital Inclusion Technology and Training Outcomes. This is a first-of-its-kind, cloud-based data collection program that will help not only the NDEC, but also the local municipalities and the state they work with, determine what kind of programs are working best and where focusing their efforts will have the greatest effect.

DITTO is essentially a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform merged with data tracking. It allows community organizations to collect participant demographics, class participation data, training hours, and follow-up connectivity status. While it is currently being beta-tested with digital inclusion advocacy in mind, the program is flexible, and can easily be adapted for any non-profit looking to collect real-time data and analysis. In addition to the MDII program in Maine, DITTO is also being beta-tested at Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center in Cleveland.

The value of having this kind of data easily available cannot be overstated. Not only will having hard numbers and data assist organizations with grant applications and funding, it also helps advocates see what strategies are actually working, and which segments of population they might be missing.

Field-testing your baby is always stressful, but applying DITTO to an entire state-wide field of digital advocacy efforts is exactly the kind of use we envisioned for this program, and we’re excited to meet the trainers and instructors of the NDEC next week and show them everything this program can do. We can’t wait to see the data it collects, and how that data can reshape our strategies for digital inclusion across the country.